Against all odds: Europe's shock title wins
Monday, May 2, 2016
With Leicester City completing their remakable triumph in England, UEFA.com picks out the other sides who defied the odds to win titles in Europe's top 12 leagues.
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With Leicester City completing their fairy-tale English Premier League title triumph against all pre-season predictions, UEFA.com celebrates some unlikely title winners in the leading 12 European divisions.
Belgium: Genk (1998/99)
Founded in 1988, Genk continued their ascendency after winning promotion to the top flight in 1996, Aimé Anthuenis leading a side starring István Brockhauser, Thordur Gudjonsson, Besnik Hasi, Souleymane Oulare and Branko Strupar to a first Pro League championship in 1999. "The board listened to my wishes and there was a strong staff," recalled Antheunis after Genk took their third title in 2011. "A lot of those people still work there – that takes care of continuity."
England: Nottingham Forest (1977/78)
Brian Clough winning the 1971/72 English title with Derby County was a major achievement, but replicating that with Forest's "team of has-beens" – who had barely scraped promotion in 1976/77 – was massive. Clough and Peter Taylor's oddball squad finished seven points clear of European champions Liverpool – who they also beat in the League Cup final. "I am a little bit stupid and a little bit of an idealist," the manager said. "We want to entertain, fill grounds and make people happy." They did that and more.
France: Montpellier (2011/12)
Monaco (1978), St-Etienne (1964) and Bordeaux (1950) won the French title as promoted clubs, but Montpellier's success in 2012 was perhaps a bigger shock, bearing in mind that the rash of signings that followed the Qatari takeover at Paris Saint-Germain in summer 2011 seemed to have laid the ground for a walkover. As it happened, René Girard's unassuming Montpellier side – spearheaded by future Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud – finished top. "It shows you don't need to fear anybody and that money doesn't buy happiness," the coach said.
Germany: Kaiserslautern (1997/98)
A 1-0 victory at Bayern München kick-started the most remarkable Bundesliga campaign of any promoted club. Otto Rehhagel's Kaiserslautern never looked back – pulverising, energetic, they were sensationally crowned champions with a match to spare. "This is something that will never happen again," said Rehhagel after lifting the trophy. History has proved him right so far, though he may have eclipsed his own miracle by leading Greece to glory at UEFA EURO 2004.
Greece: Larissa (1987/88)
A 1-0 defeat of Iraklis on 1 May 1988 crowned Larissa – with a game to spare – as Greek champions, the Crimsons becoming the first and so far only club from outside Athens or Salonika to finish top of the pile. Vasilis Karapialis was one of a number of local talents in Jacek Gmoch's unusual diamond formation. "We started from scratch," the Polish coach recalled. "We brought in nine new players and results followed. It was a very well organised club and winning the league was no fluke."
Italy: Verona (1984/85)
Verona had finished fourth and sixth in Serie A and reached Coppa Italia finals in their first seasons after being promoted in 1982, but nobody expected Osvaldo Bagnoli's side to go all the way in 1984/85. The signings of Hans-Peter Briegel and Danish striker Preben Elkjær proved decisive, 'Den Gale Mand fra Lokeren' (the Crazy Man from Lokeren) scoring a notable boot-less goal against Juventus. "I have no regrets that I never played for a big team," Elkjær once said. "Verona – that Verona – was the greatest of all."
Netherlands: AZ Alkmaar (1980/81)
Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV had monopolised the Dutch title since 1964 but were eclipsed as Georg Kessler's AZ won a Dutch double in 1980/81 and reached the UEFA Cup final, where they lost to Ipswich Town. "I started out in 1978 with an average team and in three years I developed them," Kessler said. Bank-rolled by brothers Klaas and Cees Molenaar, who made their fortunes with a chain of household appliance stores, AZ waned, but they won a second Dutch title in 2009 under Louis van Gaal.
Portugal: Boavista (2000/01)
Fifty-five years after Os Belenenses became the first team to break the hegemony of Portugal's big three – Benfica, Porto and Sporting CP – Jaime Pacheco's Boavista struck a second blow on behalf of the Liga's smaller clubs. It was a squad made in Pacheco's image – one which battled for every ball like their lives depended on it. A 1-0 win against then leaders – and city rivals – Porto midway through the season sent the Panthers top and a 3-0 home triumph over Aves sealed the title with a fixture to spare.
Russia: Rubin Kazan (2008)
Kazan was better known for ice hockey, basketball and volleyball, but that changed after Rubin drafted in Sergei Semak, Gökdeniz Karadeniz, Serhiy Rebrov and Savo Milošević for their 50th anniversary season. Kurban Berdyev's charges won their first seven games and never lost top spot. "It took a very long time for this success to come and, thank Allah, we got it," said the famously ascetic coach, who proved it was no fluke by retaining the title the following season.
Spain: Atlético Madrid (2013/14)
"Today will be one of the most important days in the history of the club," declared coach Diego Simeone after his side were confirmed as Spanish champions, ending nine seasons of dominance by Real Madrid and Barcelona. A 1-1 draw at Barcelona on the final day of the campaign confirmed Atlético's tenth title – and first since 1996. The Rojiblancos lost only four times all season, shipping just 26 goals over 38 league games. Given the unprecedented calibre of their opponents, a heroic achievement.
Turkey: Bursaspor (2009/10)
Comfortably the biggest surprise in Turkish Süper Lig history, Bursaspor's success means they remain the only team to have taken the title away from Istanbul since 1984. Featuring key players Pablo Batalla, Volkan Şen, Sercan Yıldırım and Ozan İpek, the Crocodiles clinched the championship with a 2-1 win against Beşiktaş, after Fenerbahçe were held 1-1 at home by Trabzonspor. "We were always waiting to pounce if Fenerbahçe dropped points," coach Ertuğrul Sağlam said. "The whole of Bursa has made history."
Ukraine: Tavriya Simferopol (1992)
Shakhtar Donetsk or Dynamo Kyiv have claimed every Ukrainian title since the very first, which was contested over four months in 1992, with the teams divided into two groups. Tavriya won their section, but Anatoliy Zayaev's men were massive outsiders when they took on the other table-toppers, Dynamo, in the final in Lviv. However, Serhiy Shevchenko had not read the script, scoring the only goal 14 minutes from time to give now-disbanded Tavriya the crown.